Yoweri Museveni has again returned as president in an election in which the people had little choice

A general election was held in the East African country of Uganda on February 18 to elect the president, members of the country’s parliament and local government officials. As with most elections on the continent, the election day was declared a public holiday. In the end, the process and the outcome were neither free nor fair and Uganda could not redeem its tarnished democratic credentials.

Eight candidates, including President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and Kizza Besigye, who had contested against the incumbent three times in 2001, 2006 and 2011, were on the ballot for the number one political position. Shamefully, strong cases of rigging and violence at various polling stations reportedly characterised the elections; and in many cases, voting had to be extended in several polling units where qualified voters were disfranchised by the authorities.

Following the declaration of results, opposition candidates alleged that the elections were tainted by widespread malpractices, cried out over the arrest of their leaders, and a political environment pockmarked by bullying and bribery. The allegations were corroborated by the local election monitors, as well as observers from the European Union and the United States of America. They all condemned the general election, describing it as lacking transparency, openness and credibility. Election observers from the Commonwealth, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo were also been critical of the misuse of state powers by the incumbent, President Museveni.

Notwithstanding, the Ugandan Electoral Commission declared Museveni the winner with 61 per cent of the total votes cast while Besigye who came second got 35 per cent.

It is unfortunate that in this day and age, the 71-year-old Museveni has elected to remain in power by any means possible. That perhaps explains why before the elections, he recruited thousands of unemployed young men to harass opposition politicians and supporters. Clearly working on the instruction from Museveni, the Ugandan police had also arrested the main opposition presidential candidate, Besigye, who was heading towards his campaign at the Makerere University in Kampala, few days before the election. Besigye was later driven outside of Kampala, the Uganda capital and then released.

Few days after that incident, the Ugandan police again surrounded and raided the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) headquarters in Kampala and arrested Besigye, FDC President Mugisha Muntu, Chairman Wasswa Biriggwa and other supporters of the opposition, all in a desperate attempt to clear the way for Museveni’s re-election.

Indeed, not only were the campaigns preceding the election characterised by intimidation of the opposition candidates, they were largely skewed in favour of the ruling party which deployed the instruments of state to its advantage. It is all the more sad that Museveni who fought his way to power promising change has become a nuisance to his own people as he perpetuates himself in office through flawed elections.

Having taken over power in 1986, after winning a guerrilla war against the then president, Tito Okello, Museveni has again joined the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe by extending his 30-year reign as Uganda’s president. He has become part of the wide-ranging impasse he identified in his 1986 book, “What is Africa’s Problem?”

Museveni’s controversial re-election is in defiance of the African Union’s 2007 Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, which seeks to promote regular free and fair elections to institutionalise legitimate authority of representative government, as well as democratic change of governments. What a shame for the continent!